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Rapid and chemically selective nicotine


quantification in smokeless tobacco products
using GC-MS
ARTICLE in JOURNAL OF CHROMATOGRAPHIC SCIENCE NOVEMBER 2009
Impact Factor: 1.03 DOI: 10.1093/chromsci/47.10.902 Source: PubMed

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Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

Rapid and Chemically Selective Nicotine Quantification


in Smokeless Tobacco Products using GCMS
Stephen B. Stanfill1,*, Lily T. Jia2, David L. Ashley1, and Clifford H. Watson1
1U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Environmental Health;
Division of Laboratory Sciences; Emergency Response and Air Toxicants Branch; and 2Organic Analytical Toxicology Branch 2; Mailstop F-19;
4770 Buford Highway NE; Atlanta, Georgia USA 30341-3719

Abstract
In recent years, there has been a rapid proliferation of smokeless
products with a wide range of nicotine content and flavoring
formulations that may appeal to new users and existing cigarette
smokers. The CDC nicotine method, which employs gas
chromatographyflame ionization detection (GCFID), provides a
robust means for measuring nicotine in smokeless tobacco.
However, several compounds, identified in a few flavored
smokeless products, interfere with nicotine quantification using
GCFID. In response, the standard nicotine method (26.7 min run
time) was modified to use faster GC ramping (3.7 min run time)
and detection with mass spectrometry (GCMS) in selected ionmonitoring mode to reduce signal interferences that can bias
nicotine values. Seven conventional smokeless samples (n = 12) and
blank tobacco samples spiked at three nicotine concentration levels
(n = 5) were analyzed using the GCFID and GCMS methods and
found to be in excellent agreement. However, only the GCMS
method provided confirmation of chromatographic peak purity in
certain highly flavored products. The GCMS method is not
intended to replace the GCFID method but to provide a method
versatile enough to analyze a wide range of nicotine values in
domestic and international samples of varying complexity. Accurate
nicotine quantification is important for determining total nicotine
content in tobacco and in subsequent calculations of un-protonated
nicotine content.

Introduction
An estimated 7.8 million people in the United States use
smokeless tobacco products (1), including loose leaf, plug, twist
chewing tobaccos, dry snuff, and moist snuff (2). Among the
types of domestic smokeless tobacco, moist snuff, which has a
high use prevalence among adolescent males (3), accounts for
approximately 85% of smokeless tobacco sales (4). The demand
for smokeless tobacco products has rapidly grown as evidenced
by a 39% increase in the amount of moist snuff produced in the
United States between 2000 and 2008 (5,6).
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed: email

902

Domestic smokeless products are usually produced from airand fire-cured tobacco (2) and are often augmented with inorganic salts, sugar, licorice, molasses, fruit juices, spices, essential
oils, and individual flavor chemicals to enhance product taste or
other physicochemical characteristics. The addition of inorganic
salts such as sodium carbonate and ammonium carbonate (7)
boost the product pH, resulting in increased nicotine adsorption
(8,9). Moreover, globally, smokeless tobacco products are widely
used and vary greatly in terms of tobacco type used, curing processes, additive content, moisture, nicotine concentration, and
product pH (10).
At pH levels typically found in domestic moist snuff (approximately pH 5.58.5) (11), nicotine exists in two forms: a monoprotonated and an un-protonated form (12) that is also known as
free nicotine (13). Un-protonated nicotine is the form of nicotine
most readily absorbed across oral membranes (8,9). At increasingly higher pH levels, the fraction of nicotine in the un-protonated form increases; for example, at pH 5.5, only 0.3% of
nicotine exists in the un-protonated form; whereas, at pH 8.5,
75% of nicotine is un-protonated (12). The relative fraction of
un-protonated nicotine and the total nicotine is used to calculate
the absolute amount of un-protonated nicotine (14).
In addition to pH, nicotine absorption is influenced by product
characteristics, including nicotine content; cut size (i.e., for
moist snuff; fine cut, long cut, or straight cut); additive content;
moisture content (8,9,15); or whether the tobacco is loose or in
a pouch (16). Individual users influence nicotine absorption by
brand choice (15) and use parameters, including dip or sachet
size choice, number of daily uses, chewing intensity, and residence time of tobacco in the oral cavity, which influences the
amount of nicotine absorbed (17). Moreover, clinical researchers
have demonstrated that smokeless tobacco products with higher
levels of un-protonated nicotine deliver nicotine into the bloodstream more rapidly and contribute to higher concentrations
in the blood than products with lower levels of un-protonated
nicotine (9).
The existing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) nicotine
methodology, published in 1999, was developed to measure total
nicotine in domestic smokeless tobacco products using gas chromatography with flame ionization detection (GCFID). When

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Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

the GCFID method was introduced (14), considerably fewer


smokeless tobacco products were available in the U.S. marketplace, and most of those brands were unflavored or wintergreen
flavored (13).
The GCFID methodology provides a relatively inexpensive
and robust means of determining total nicotine in conventionally-flavored smokeless products; however, challenges associated
with nicotine analyses have increased with the introduction of
newer products with more complex flavoring formulations. At
present, moist snuff products are available in a variety of new
fruit and exotic flavors (e.g., apple, bourbon, cherry, cinnamon,
spearmint, etc.) (18), which are more chemically complex than
unflavored and wintergreen-flavored moist snuff (19). In addition, many international smokeless tobacco products contain
substantial amounts of other plant-derived materials, including
areca nut, piper betal leaf, saffron, cardamom, catechu, camphor
eucalyptus, rose, aniseed, and clove (10), which contribute to
sample complexity.
Highly augmented domestic and international smokeless
tobacco products contain compounds that could potentially coelute with nicotine or quinoline (used as an internal reference)
peaks leading to errors in quantification. Analysis using gas
chromatographymass spectrometry (GCMS) in selected-ion
monitoring mode (SIM) eliminates the vast majority of potentially interfering or co-eluting peaks. In the past, GCMS has
been successfully used to analyze nicotine in natural products
(20) and biological matrices (2123) with run times varying from
7.4 min to 20 min.

In response to the increased sample complexity associated with


smokeless products, we developed a versatile GCMS method that
optimizes analytical speed, specificity, and provides unambiguous
quantification of nicotine levels in conventional and highly flavored products. This publication presents the parameters for the
new GCMS method and compares the new method to GCFID
in conventional and highly flavored products.

Experimental
Chemicals

Nicotine (purity, 99.97%) was purchased from Fluka Chemical


Company (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Nicotine calibration standards were prepared in isopropanol and purchased from Tedia
(Fairfield, OH). Quinoline (purity, 98%), used as the internal reference for all nicotine analyses, was purchased from Aldrich
Chemical Co. (Milwaukee, WI). Sodium hydroxide (2N NaOH)
was purchased from Lab Chem, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA). HPLCgrade (purity, 99.8%) methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) was purchased from Sigma Chemical Co. (St. Louis, MO). All chemicals
were used without further purification. Standards and samples
were weighed using an analytical balance (Sartorius AG;
Gttingen, Germany) with an accuracy of 0.01 mg; tobacco
samples were weighed to within 0.05 mg of 1 g.
Smokeless samples

Commercial U.S. moist snuff products, purchased at various retail outlets or from websites,
were stored at 70C until needed. International
smokeless tobacco samples were provided by
research partners in the country of origin. Prior to
mixing, tobacco tins were equilibrated in a Lab-Line
bench-top humidity chamber (Barnstead
International, Dubuque, Iowa) at 23C and at 95%
humidity overnight. For each product, five tins or
packages of each smokeless tobacco type [quality
control (QC) materials and smokeless samples]
were homogenized using a RS12V Robot Coupe
batch processor (Jackson, Mississippi), and each
were transferred into a 6-oz. amber bottle and
sealed with a Teflon-lined lid. The bottles containing
tobacco were stored long term at 70C. Samples
were equilibrated to room temperature prior to use.
Quality control and blank materials

Figure 1. Typical GCFID chromatogram for an unflavored fine cut moist snuff obtained using the
standard CDC nicotine method (A). A reconstructed ion chromatogram for the same sample analyzed by GCMS using a faster GC ramping (3.7 min run time) and selected-ion monitoring detection is shown in (B).

Two QC materials were used: Copenhagen Snuff,


purchased in Atlanta, Georgia in 2005 and a moist
smokeless reference tobacco (2S3) obtained from
the Tobacco Analysis Laboratory at North Carolina
State University (Raleigh, NC). A nicotine-free
tobacco blank was produced from the tobacco filler
of the Quest 3 nicotine-free cigarettes (Vector
Tobacco Inc., Research Triangle Park, NC). The
tobacco was extracted (with aspiration) in a large
Buchner funnel by rinsing with three 250-mL
aliquots of methanol with 10% aqueous NaOH (2N).

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Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

The solvent-washed tobacco was then dried in an oven at 80C.


Subsequent analysis of the blank tobacco yielded nicotine levels of
approximately 0.06 mg/g, which is below the method limit of
detection (0.16 mg/g) as determined by GCMS. This blank material was used for preparation of analytical blanks and calibration
curves for both methods.
Preparation of extraction solution

To facilitate comparison of the methods, quinoline was used as


an internal standard for nicotine quantification for both the
GCFID and GCMS approaches. An extraction solution was prepared by mixing ~ 500 mg of quinoline into a freshly opened 4-L
bottle of MTBE. For larger sample batches, the MTBE extraction
solution was prepared by mixing ~ 1.5 g of quinoline into 12 L of
MTBE held in a large carboy (Nagle Nunc International;
Rochester, NY) connected via flexible tubing to a BrandTech dispenser mounted on a ring-stand.

GCFID quantification instrumentation and parameters

Nicotine analyses using GCFID were performed on an Agilent


6890 GC (Agilent Technologies; Avondale, PA) equipped with a
standard flame ionization detector. The GC was equipped with an
Ultra2 GC column (25 m 0.32 mm 0.52 m) (Agilent
Technologies, Avondale, PA). The GC inlet was maintained at
230C with a constant flow (1.7 mL/min) of ultrapure helium
(99.9999%) as the carrier gas. Ultra zero air and ultra high purity
hydrogen were used for the flame ionization detector. An injection split ratio of 50:1 was used for these analyses. The GC oven
ramp was as follows: initial temperature, 110C; ramp at
10C/min to 185C; ramp at 6C/min to 240C, hold 10 min.
Total GC run time was 26.7 min. The operational parameters
from the nicotine GCFID method are published in the Federal
Register (14). All GCFID analyses were performed in triplicate.
Nicotine extracts from seven moist snuff products and spiked
samples at three concentrations were analyzed in parallel by
both GCFID and GCMS.

Protocol for measuring total nicotine

Nicotine concentration levels (mg/g) in tobacco samples were


determined by adding 50 mL of extraction solution (MTBE containing quinoline) and 5 mL of 2N NaOH solution to 1.0 g of
tobacco in a screw-top amber sample bottle; extraction and
NaOH solutions were added using a Brand Tech bottle-top dispenser (BrandTech Scientific Inc.; Essex, CT). Following addition of MTBE and NaOH, the tobacco suspension was agitated on
an orbital shaker (Lab-line Instruments, Inc.; Melrose Park, IL)
at 160 rpm for 2 h. Subsequently, an aliquot was transferred to a
2-mL autosampler vial for GCMS or GCFID analysis.

Figure 2. Regression analysis of total nicotine (mg/g) values for seven moist
snuff samples (n = 12) measured using GCMS and GCFID. The least squares
linear regressions and correlation coefficients correspond to the nicotine data
(mg/g) measured from the same vial by the two methods.

GCMS quantification instrumentation and parameters

Nicotine quantification by GCMS was performed by injecting


1-L aliquot from each sample vial onto an Ultra2 GC column
(25 m 0.32 mm 0.52 m) (Agilent Technologies Inc., Palo
Alto, CA) housed in an Agilent 6890 GC with a 5973N Mass
Selective Detector. The GC inlet was maintained at 230C with a
constant flow (1.7 mL/min) of ultrapure helium (99.9999%) as
the carrier gas. An injection split ratio of 50:1 was used. The GC
oven ramp used the following sequence: hold at 175C for 1 min;
ramp at 5C/min to 180C; ramp at 35C/min to 240C. Total GC
run time was 3.7 min. The heated transfer line from the GC oven
to the MS ion source was maintained at 280C. Selected ionmonitoring (SIM) parameters (mass and dwell) were quinoline,
102 amu (10 msec; internal reference) and nicotine, 133 amu (10
msec; quantification), 162 amu (35 msec; confirmation). Two
additional ions (quinoline, 129 amu, 10 msec; nicotine, 161 amu,
35 msec) provided alternative ions in case interferences were
encountered. Sample injections were made using a CTC
CombiPAL autosampler (Leap Technologies, Carrboro, North
Carolina) equipped with a 10-L syringe. All GCMS analyses
were performed in triplicate.
Measurement of total nicotine

Nicotine levels were determined from the relative response


ratio of the nicotine chromatographic peak area
to that from the quinoline internal standard
Table I. Method Precision and Accuracy Determined by Spiking a Set of Five 1-g
(i.e., response factor). A least squares fit of
Nicotine-Free Tobacco Samples with a Solution Containing Nicotine at 4.02, 9.07, or
14.01 mg/g Tobacco*
known nicotine amounts (mg) and their respective response factors yielded calibration equaGCMS Method (n = 5)
GCFID Method (n = 5)
tions for quantification. In addition to having
Nicotine
Nicotine
Method
Method Nicotine
Nicotine
Method
Method
the appropriate retention time, nicotines detecSpike Mean Standard Precision Accuracy
Spike
Mean Standard Precision Accuracy
tion by the GCMS method was also confirmed
(mg)
Error (mg/g)
(CV,%)
(%)
(mg)
Error (mg/g)
(CV,%)
(%)
by comparing relative areas of the reconstructed
4.02
4.04 0.02
1.17%
100.6%
4.02
4.08 0.03
1.77%
101.6%
ion chromatograms for the quantification (133
9.07
9.21 0.03
0.75%
101.6%
9.07
9.17 0.06
1.51%
101.2%
amu) and confirmation ions (162 amu) with
14.01
14.17 0.05
0.73%
101.2%
14.01
13.92 0.04
0.69%
99.4%
a known standard. Mass spectral data were
deemed valid if the quantification to confirma*Following spiking, samples were extracted with methyl tertiary butyl ether, and the resulting extract was analyzed.
Analysis method presented in this manuscript.
tion ion peak area ratios were within 5% of the
Analysis method published in Federal Register. 1999. pp.14085 14096. FR Doc. 99-7022.
known standard.

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Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

Assessment of precision and accuracy

To examine possible matrix effects, we performed standard


addition assays by spiking aliquots of nicotine-containing solution on the blank tobacco. Three nicotine levels (4.02 mg/g, 9.07
mg/g, and 14.01 mg/g) were prepared by adding appropriate nicotine amounts to a 1.0-g portion of blank tobacco; five samples

were prepared for each spike level along with five unspiked blank
samples. Following spiking, extraction solution was added and
the samples were shaken for 2 h. Extracts of the spiked samples
were measured by both GCFID and GCMS. To assess method
repeatability from injection-to-injection variation, samples from
one vial from each of the three spiked concentrations (4.02 mg/g,
9.07 mg/g, and 14.01 mg/g) were injected
10 times over several days.
Determination of un-protonated
nicotine percentage using product pH

Figure 3. The GCFID chromatograms for a spearmint-flavored domestic moist snuff (A) and Mainpuri (B), a
smokeless product from Pakistan, generated using the GCFID nicotine method (26.7 min run time). Tentative
peak assignments were determined by re-analyzing the same samples with GCMS in full scan mode.

Table II. The pH, Total and Un-protonated Nicotine (mg/g) Values for Seven Conventionally
Flavored Smokeless Test Samples Analyzed Using GCMS and GCFID*
GCMS Method (n = 12)

Samples
Sample A
Sample B
Sample C
Sample D
Sample E
Sample F***
Sample G

GCFID Method (n = 12)

Nicotine Total Nicotine Total Un-protonated Total Nicotine Total Un-protonated


pH un-protonated Mean SE Nicotine
Nicotine
Mean SE Nicotine
Nicotine
Mean** form (%)
(mg/g)
CV (%)
(mg/g)
(mg/g)
CV (%)
(mg/g)
5.54
7.44
8.62
6.64
7.08
7.41
5.71

0.3
20.8
79.9
4.0
10.3
31.0
0.5

4.39 0.04
8.95 0.06
10.24 0.04
10.36 0.06
12.24 0.05
15.19 0.09
26.45 0.10

3.23%
2.32%
1.49%
1.84%
1.54%
1.93%
1.29%

0.01
1.86
8.18
0.41
1.26
3.00
0.13

4.39 0.04
8.92 0.07
10.29 0.03
10.30 0.05
12.23 0.05
15.11 0.08
26.46 0.13

3.20%
2.50%
1.02%
1.68%
1.50%
1.83%
1.67%

0.01
1.86
8.22
0.41
1.26
2.99
0.13

* Mean values represent 12 measurements made during a two-month period. Total nicotine values for all seven samples
obtained by the two methods were not statistically different at the 95% confidence interval using a pooled two-tail t test.
Analysis method presented in this manuscript.
Analysis method published in Federal Register. 1999. pp. 14085 14096. FR Doc. 99-7022.
Mean values was calculated using triplicate pH measurements
** Nicotine in un-protonated form (%) is calculated using product pH and the pKa value for the pyrollic nitrogen of nicotine
(8.02) substituted into the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation.
SE = Standard Error.
CV = Coefficient of Variation
Un-protonated nicotine (mg/g) is calculated by dividing fraction of un-protonated nicotine (%) by 100 then multiplying by
total nicotine (mg/g). In the table above, un-protonated nicotine values were calculated using the total nicotine measured
by the GCMS and GCFID methods for comparison.
*** Only 11 nicotine measurements were available for the GCMS method.

Product pH was determined by suspending 2 g of smokeless tobacco products


in 10 mL of distilled water and measured
using an EA940 expandable ion analyzer
(Orion Research; Cambridge, MA). For
each sample, pH readings were taken at 5
min, 15 min, 30 min, and 60 min and were
averaged; each product was measured in
triplicate. Moist snuff products in tobaccocontaining sachets were analyzed by
removing the tobacco from the sachets,
grinding the sachets, and thoroughly
mixing the tobacco and the sachets
together prior to pH measurement. The
total percentage of moisture was obtained
by calculating the difference in the weight
of a 5-g sample of tobacco before and after
drying at 99.5 0.5C for 3 h (AOAC
method 966.02) (21); measurements were
made in triplicate. Substitution of a
products pH value and the reference pKa
value of the pyrollic nitrogen of nicotine
(8.02) into the Henderson-Hasselbalch
equation yields the fraction of nicotine
present in the un-protonated form (fb).
By multiplying fb by total nicotine, the
amount of un-protonated nicotine is calculated; the equations for determining
un-protonated nicotine are published in
the Federal Register (14).
Characterization of peak co-elution
using GC with FID and MS

Characterization of co-eluting compounds was performed by injecting


1-L aliquot onto an Ultra2 GC column
(25 m 0.32 mm 0.52 m). The column
connects to zero-dead volume connector,
which splits the column stream between
a 5975 Mass Selective Detector (MSD)
and FID detector. The MSD was operated
in either full-scan mode (40350 amu)
for compound identification or in
selected ion monitoring mode using
the same parameters used for GCMS
quantification described earlier in this
publication.

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Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

Results and Discussion


Overview of nicotine analysis by GCFID and
GCMS methods

The GCFID nicotine method includes a 2-h MTBE extraction


of a 1-g sample of smokeless tobacco, followed by a 26.7-min
GCFID analysis of a 1-L aliquot of the extract (14). A chromatogram showing nicotine in a smokeless tobacco sample analyzed by GCFID is shown in Figure 1A; when the method was
developed, the 26.7 run time was implemented to ensure the GC
column had sufficient time to elute all injected compounds
before subsequent run were initiated. The nicotine and quinoline
peaks are baseline separated, and there are no obvious interferences for conventionally-flavored domestic smokeless products.
Nicotine measured in standards and commercial smokeless
products using the GCMS method showed excellent chromatographic separation for all smokeless tobacco products with more
rapid elution of quinoline and nicotine (Figure 1B). This chromatogram also shows readily quantifiable baseline-separated
peaks. Mass spectrometric detection had sufficient chemical
specificity that even with chemically complex smokeless tobacco
samples, no interfering contributions to target peak areas were
identified for co-eluting peaks.

Evaluation of GCMS method: quantification range

Peak areas from chromatograms were used to generate calibration curves spanning a concentration range from 0.0565.62
mg/g tobacco with excellent linearity (R2 > 0.990). All domestic
smokeless tobacco samples had nicotine levels within this range.
The extended calibration curve was useful for analyzing certain
international and non-traditional products with higher nicotine
levels. The GCMS method has excellent sensitivity and can
easily quantify nicotine in smokeless tobacco samples as low as
0.16 mg/g, which is the methods analytical limit of detection
(LOD). The LOD was calculated as three times the y-intercept of
the regression line of standard deviation of calculated concentration versus concentration for repeated measurements of low calibrators (24).
Evaluation of GCMS method:
repeatability and reproducibility

Injection-to-injection variation for the GCMS analysis was


examined using 30 injections of each spike concentration extract
(4.02 mg/g, 9.07 mg/g, and 14.01 mg/g). A series of 10 injections
from each standard solution were analyzed on three non-consecutive days for a total of thirty injections for each concentration.
The coefficient of variation (CV) values were calculated for each
concentration (n = 10) on each day. The CV values
for the first 10 injections at low (4.02 mg/g),
medium (9.07 mg/g), and high (14.01 mg/g) concentrations were 0.38%, 0.63%, and 0.24%,
respectively. The average CV values for a total of 30
injections at low, medium, and high concentrations were 0.38%, 0.32%, and 0.33%, respectively.
Evaluation of GCMS method:
analytical stability

To determine the analytical stability for commercial samples, 18 individual samples of a commercial smokeless tobacco product were analyzed
by GCMS during a seven-day period. The measured nicotine values ranged from 12.62 mg/g to
13.55 mg/g with a standard deviation of 0.27 mg/g.
The mean value for the samples analyzed by the
GCMS method was 13.11 mg with a CV of 2.05%,
which was comparable with a value of 13.12 mg/g
(n = 3) obtained by independent measurements
made by LabStat Inc. (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)
using the standard GCFID nicotine method.
Smokeless reference material 2S3 (1-g samples),
obtained from North Carolina State University,
was analyzed using the GCMS method in our laboratory 81 times over a 24-month period generating a CV value of 1.83% and demonstrating
excellent analytical stability over an extended
period of time.
Figure 4. Modified GC ramping (3.7 min run) yields chromatographic separation of eugenol and nicotine. A GCMS analysis (full scan mode) of Mainpuri (A) using the modified GC ramping is shown
below. The mass spectrum for eugenol resolved from nicotine in Mainpuri is shown in (B). The analysis of Manipuri with the new GCMS method using faster GC ramping coupled with SIM-MS detection is shown in (C).

906

Evaluation of GCMS method:


precision and accuracy

Measured levels of nicotine in conventional


smokeless tobacco products using the GCMS and
GCFID methods agreed well. To compare the

Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

GCMS and GCFID methods, solutions were spiked at one of


three nicotine concentrations (4.02 mg/g, 9.07 mg/g, and 14.01
mg/g of tobacco) on nicotine-free tobacco (Table I). Data from
both methods exhibit excellent method precision (CV < 2%) and
accuracy ( 1.6% of expected value). The average CV was similar
for the GCMS method (average CV = 0.88%) and the GCFID
method (average CV = 1.32%). For method accuracy, the average
values for the GCMS and GCFID methods were 101.1% and
100.7%, respectively.

mg/g using the GCMS method. Similarly, the calculated levels


of un-protonated nicotine in data measured by GCFID ranged
from 0.01 to 8.22 mg/g. Regression analysis of total nicotine
values for seven moist snuff products by the GCMS and GCFID
methods also showed excellent agreement (slope = 1.000; R2 =
0.999) (Figure 2).
Evaluation of Potential Peak interferences using GC with
dual FID and MS detectors.

The CDC nicotine method (14) provides a robust means of


measuring nicotine in smokeless tobacco using GCFID. When
the GCFID method was introduced, most domestic moist snuff
For comparison, nicotine measurements were made on seven
products were either unflavored or wintergreen (13); winterconventional moist snuff samples with a wide range of nicotine
green flavor contains large amounts of methyl salicylate, which
and pH values using both the GCFID and the GCMS methods
does not interfere with nicotine quantification by the CDC nico(Table II). The total nicotine levels for these test samples ranged
tine method by GCFID. Recently, several compounds that interfrom 4.39 to 26.45 mg/g. The GCMS and GCFID methods genfere with nicotine quantification have been found in new
erated comparable results when analyzing these smokeless
domestic and several international products. A standard GCFID
tobacco samples. The results obtained from these two methods
chromatogram for a flavored moist snuff containing carvone, a
were not statistically different (p > 0.05) using a pooled twomajor constituent of spearmint (19), overlaps partially with the
tailed t-test. Data from both methods exhibited excellent method
quinoline peak (Figure 3A). Overlap of carvone with the quinoprecision with average CV for both methods of 1.95%. Using total
line internal reference compound tends to result in GCFID
nicotine levels from the GCMS method and measured pH
integrations that truncate a portion of the quinoline peak,
values, the amount of un-protonated nicotine levels in the seven
resulting in a slight increase in relative response and reported
products used in the comparison were calculated (Table II). The
nicotine value (Table III).
levels of un-protonated nicotine values ranged from 0.01 to 8.18
In another example, the GCFID chromatogram for Mainpuri,
a smokeless product from Pakistan, contains a
large peak eluting at the retention time for
Table IV. A List of Flavor-Related Compounds that Closely Elute to Quinoline
nicotine (Figure 3B); however, GCMS analysis
(Internal Standard Compound) or Nicotine When Analyzed by GCMS
revealed a large contribution to the peak area
(3.7 min run time) and GCFID (26.7 min Run Time) is Shown Below*
that is attributable to eugenol. To further
GCMS Method (3.7 min)
GCFID Method (26.7 min)
determine the extent of eugenol contribution
to the nicotine peak, the Mainpuri sample was
Potential
Interference
Potential
Interference
Closely eluting
RT*
Peak
resolved with
RT
Peak
resolved with
rerun with the faster GC ramp (3.7 min) using
compounds
(min)
Co-elution?
GCMS?
(min)
Co-elution?
GCFID?
full-scan MS detection (Figure 4A). This chroQuinoline
2.67

5.75

matogram shows the chromatographic separa(Internal standard)


tion of a nicotine peak and a large eugenol
Methyl Salicylate
2.45
5.21
peak. The mass spectrum for eugenol is shown
Pulegone
2.61
5.68
Yes
No
in Figure 4B. The co-elution of eugenol with
Carvone
2.62
Yes
Yes
5.70
Yes
No
p-Anisaldehyde
2.66
Yes
Yes
5.82
Yes
No
nicotine can result in an elevated nicotine peak
Piperitone
2.67
Yes
Yes
5.84
Yes
No
area that can contribute to an erroneously
Ethyl Salicylate
2.70
Yes
Yes
5.97
high value. Figure 4C shows the Mainpuri
Cinnamylaldehyde 2.72
Yes
Yes
5.99
samples run with the GCMS quantitation
Nicotine
3.06

6.88

(Target Analyte)
method with the fast ramping and SIM detecEugenol
3.02
Yes
Yes
6.88
Yes
No
tion; this is the method used to measure nico-Cubebene**
3.04
Yes
Yes
6.86
Yes
No
tine in the smokeless samples.
Valerophenone
3.04
Yes
Yes
6.89
Yes
No

In the standard GCFID method, carvone


p-Anisaldehyde
3.06
Yes
Yes
6.97
Yes
No
dimethyl acetal
co-elutes with quinoline as a shoulder peak,
whereas eugenol co-elutes at the same re* The retention time and status of interferences are shown.
Methyl salicylate is listed because it is the primary flavor-related compound in wintergreen flavored
tention time as nicotine. The co-elution of
smokeless products; however, it does not interfere with quinoline or nicotine.
At concentrations normally encountered in smokeless samples, cinnamylaldehyde and quinoline are baseline
eugenol with nicotine results in elevated nicoseparated. In samples with extremely high cinnamylaldehyde concentrations (i.e. products with very high
tine values by GCFID. Examples of nicotine
cinnamon content) co-elution may occur. The 129 amu peak could be used alternatively in that case.
values obtained using the standard GCFID
At concentrations normally encountered in smokeless samples eugenol and nicotine are baseline separated. In
samples with extremely high eugenol concentrations (i.e. products with high clove content), mass 161 amu
method and the GCMS method in domestic
should be used for nicotine quantification instead of 133 amu due to the small 133 amu produced by eugenol
and international products that contain carfragmentation.
** The data above were taken from various samples run with both GCFID and GCMS over a two-month
vone or eugenol are shown in Table III.
period; slight retention shifts occurred relative to other compounds during that time.
Eugenol and nicotine co-elute as a single sym Reaction or degradation product of p-Anisaldehyde.
metrical peak; hence, a nicotine peak con-

Evaluation of GCMS method: determination of total and unprotonated nicotine in test samples

907

Journal of Chromatographic Science, Vol. 47, November/December 2009

taining eugenol is indistinguishable from one


Table III. A Comparison of Nicotine Quantification by the Existing GCFID Method
containing only nicotine by the GCFID method
and New GCMS Method in Several Domestic and International Products that
(26.7 min). The co-elution of eugenol under the
Contain Carvone and Eugenol which Co-elute with Quinoline or Nicotine
nicotine peak in Mainpuri caused a 243%
Product
Sample
Interfering
Nicotine (mg/g)
Nicotine (mg/g)
increase in the nicotine amount determined by
Description
Origin
Compound
GC/MS Method GC/FID Method
% Bias
GCFID.
SpearmintUnited States
Carvone
12.07
12.35
2.32%
Flavor-related compounds with retention
flavored snuff
times (25) similar to quinoline or nicotine (Table
Mainpuri
Pakistan
Eugenol (L)*
2.26
7.76
243%
IV) introduce interfering peaks that can conFlavored snuff
Sweden
Eugenol (M)*
8.64
9.74
12.7%
tribute to analytical bias associated with nicotine
CinnamonUnited States
Eugenol (S)*
10.97
11.13
1.46%
flavored pouch
quantification by GCFID. Also, as the concentration of these compounds increases, the incidence
* L = large; M = medium; S = small.
and severity of chromatographic peak co-elution
increases. Using the GCMS method, the compared to the established GCFID nicotine analysis with a 26.7
pounds we identified can be resolved from the peaks of interest
min run time (15). In the unlikely event of interferences which
and accurately quantified. Moreover, the GCMS method
have common compound specific ions with either nicotine or
includes additional ions for quinoline (129 amu) and nicotine
the internal standard, the sample can be re-analyzed by the
(161 amu). The area ratio of 102 amu (the internal reference ion)
GCMS in full-scan mode for compound identification providing
to 129 amu provides a useful check for potential co-elution of
additional information about the samples chemical composiinterfering compounds with quinoline. Also the ion ratios of the
tion.
133 amu ion and 161 amu ion provide an additional check for
The GCFID has proven to be an accurate and robust method
potential co-elution of interfering compounds with nicotine. In
for analyzing nicotine in conventionally-flavored domestic
the event of a co-elution in highly complex samples, the 129 amu
smokeless tobacco. Thus, the GCMS method is not meant as a
and 161 amu ions can be substituted for the ions customarily
replacement of the GCFID method but as a more powerful
used.
alternative, particularly when analyzing more complex samples
The prevalence of products with complex flavorings (domestic
(highly flavored domestic or international smokeless products).
and international) has increased in recent years and introduces
Use of FID detection with the faster GC ramping regimen (3.7
an increased potential for analytical interference with quinoline
min) is not advisable due to known flavor compounds that coor nicotine. For example, carvone, partially overlaps with quinoelute with quinoline and nicotine (Table IV); the presence of
line and is found in common flavoring materials derived from
these compounds would compromise quantification. The
spearmint and dill. Eugenol, which co-elutes with nicotine, is a
GCMS nicotine method has been used successfully to analyze
constituent of flavoring materials derived from clove, cinnamon,
nicotine in domestic smokeless samples (12). In addition to
cananga, geranium, and nutmeg (19), which are added to some
smokeless products, the GCMS method has utility for analyzing
domestic smokeless products. Besides being present in essential
nicotine in other tobacco products including cigarette filler,
oils, eugenol and carvone are flavor compounds that are individclove cigarette filler, bidis, cigars, clove cigarettes, hookah (water
ually added to domestic smokeless products (7). For this reason,
pipe), and pipe tobaccos (data not shown).
these compounds, whether individually added or as essential oil
constituents, can be present in domestic smokeless products and
if at high enough concentrations can affect nicotine quantificaAcknowledgements
tion in domestic smokeless samples. Moreover, international
products, can contain additional flavoring materials not used in
The authors gratefully acknowledge the expert technical assisthe United States which could contribute potential interfering
tance of Mr. Fred Cardinali in the area of gas chromatography.
peaks. Judicious selection of mass fragments for monitoring
We also acknowledge the efforts of Anshuma Jain in the method
greatly reduces interferences in highly flavored smokeless
development phase of this study and Ranni Tewfik in the method
tobacco products.
validation phase of this research.

Conclusion
The new GCMS analysis method offers a more rapid and
compound selective means for accurately quantifying total nicotine in the presence of potential interferences, although the
GCMS approach does require a larger initial outlay in capital
equipment expenses. Advantages of the GCMS method include
higher throughput and chemical specificity not possible with the
GCFID. The new GCMS implementation has a rapid 3.7 min
run time substantially increasing sample throughput as com-

908

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Manuscript received April 24, 2009


revision received July 7, 2009

909